Fred Jones says time as a Duck was best four years of my life
Fred Jones didn't enter his college career hoping one day to become a member of the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.
When word came of his impending induction, though, in the MGM Grand Garden Arena at Las Vegas on March 14, the former Oregon star wasn't about to turn it down.
"I never really expected it," says Jones, the Barlow High grad who lives in Indianapolis. "It's truly a blessing. I guess what they're telling me is I was one of the better players in the Pac-12."
Indeed. Especially during his senior season, 2001-02, when Jones averaged 18.6 points and 5.4 rebounds on an Ernie Kent team that went 26-9 overall, won the Pac-10 championship, and reached the NCAA's Elite Eight.
Each year, the Pac-12 honors one player from each of its member schools. Jones and Oregon State's Lee Harman (1957-59) will go in this year with such standouts as Brandon Roy of Washington, Luke Walton of Arizona, Mark Madsen of Stanford and Tyus Edney of UCLA.
Jones and Harman join a group of former Beavers and Ducks in the hall that includes Mel Counts, Ronnie Lee, Blair Rasmussen, Steve Johnson, Gary Payton, Terrell Brandon, Greg Ballard, A.C. Green and Charlie Sitton.
Jones is hoping to have a strong contingent of close friends and family at the enshrinement ceremony, including parents Frederick and Beverly, wife Kia and children Frederick II and Tre, agent Sam Goldfeder, high school coach Tom Johnson and Josh Atkins, a former teammate at Barlow and roommate at Oregon who played offensive line for the Ducks.
It has been 12 years since Jones played for the Ducks and five years since he played the final game of his seven-year NBA career.
"Time goes by fast," says Jones, who turns 35 on March 11. "It's crazy. I was at NBA All-Star Weekend (at New Orleans), and realized it's been 10 years since I won the dunk contest."
That was in 2004, when Jones, a second-year guard for the Indiana Pacers, etched his name on a list of the game's great leapers by winning the slam dunk contest at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It's ironic that Jones was on hand to see Jefferson High grad Terrence Ross of Toronto as part of the winning East team in this year's dunk fest at New Orleans. While he was in the NBA, Jones sponsored a "Team Jones" for Portland-area youths to participate in on the AAU circuit.
"Terrence played for us for two years," he says. "He's my boy. I get satisfaction out of any kid from Oregon who does well. I support all of them."
Jones was primarily in New Orleans for business. He is the founder/CEO of a virtual community for current and former NBA players called "Player Population," and operates the website where players can share information on business and charitable opportunities.
"It's a platform for guys to stay in communication with their peers, to showcase their events and charities they have going on, and collaborate on business ventures," Jones says. "It's going really well. We've gained a lot of traction and did a lot of things during All-Star Weekend."
Jones' review of the '14 dunk contest?
"I was highly disappointed," he says. "I like every guy who was in it. They did some good stuff. I just didn't like the team format and the last round, where they never indicated it wasn't a one-on-one show. Every other dunk contest goes down to two finalists. This year, it just ended all of a sudden."
Jones began to cull his talents under Johnson at Barlow, earning the state's player of the year award as a senior in 1997-98.
"Tom gets all of my respect," Jones says. "He's one of the winningest coaches in the state of Oregon history. He helped me so much with my development. Even if was a Friday or Saturday night, in season or out of season, I could call him and say, 'I want to go to the gym,' and he would come pick me up. He went way beyond what you would expect from a high school coach."
Jones' relationship with Kent at Oregon wasn't as close, but the 6-4, 210-pound guard developed there, too, averaging 9.1 points as a freshman, 9.7 as a sophomore and 14.8 as a junior.
As a senior, Jones teamed with Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson to lead the Ducks to one of the most successful seasons in school history, earning All-Pac-10 honors along the way.
"It was just a player-coach relationship (with Kent)," Jones says now. "Both of us could have done a little better job at a lot of things. But the goal is to win games. That's what he recruited me for. By the time I left there, we did a pretty good job."
The Elite Eight team his senior year "was the highlight of my time at Oregon," he says. "When I signed, I felt I could help us get at least second in the conference. It took awhile, but we went from seventh to winning the conference. People always talk about me and the Lukes, but it wasn't just us three. We had a lot of good players on that team. I had unbelievable teammates who helped me and pushed me."
Jones was taken by Indiana with the 14th pick of the 2002 NBA draft and spent his first four seasons with the Pacers. Over his final three years in the league, he played with New York, Portland, Toronto and the L.A. Clippers. He played professionally in Italy and China before hanging up the sneakers for good.
Jones was never a full-time starter in the NBA, averaging 7.5 points while shooting .411 from the field and .353 from 3-point range. His best season was 2004-05, when he averaged 10.5 points and scored a career-high 31 points in a game against Orlando. That came the night after the "Malice at the Palace" incident at Detroit, the Pistons-Pacers brawl that resulted in multiple suspensions and shaped the Indiana franchise for several seasons.
"I try not to remember that," Jones says ruefully, "because it ruined a championship team. We were the frontrunners to win it all that year. It was going to happen."
Jones played 24 games with the 2006-07 Blazers as they were beginning a rebuilding process with rookies Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Jones started three games and was in the rotation in the other 21, averaging 4.8 points on .384 shooting from the field and .259 from 3-point territory.
"It was quick, but it was fun," Jones says of his stint with the Blazers. "I got to play in front of the home fans, in front of people who had been watching me play for a lot of years, including my mom and dad. That was a highlight."
Jones looks back at his NBA career with mixed emotions.
"I always think, 'What if?' " he admits. "Maybe I could have done a little more. I wanted to play 10 years in the league. I didn't quite get there. I wish I could have had a longer run in the NBA.
"I was on a couple of really good teams at Indiana. We should have been NBA champs. Other than that, I met great people and had my family and friends support me. And they're still there to this day. You can't beat that."
Jones says he has gone to several Pacers games this season, often bringing along his eldest son. He's not picking his old team to get out of the East, though, in the postseason.
"They're doing a great job," he says. "They have a lot of depth. They started the season off really strong. They have a chance, but they still have to contend with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. That's a tall task."
Jones looks back at his time at Oregon as "the best four years of my life. I'm a Duck. That's the thing I'm most proud of. I never tell people I played in the NBA, that I did this or that, but I tell everybody I meet that I'm a Duck."
Jones' parents still live in Portland, and he returns to visit often.
"I don't usually go three or four months without getting back there for a couple of days," he says.
Some day, he'd like to begin a coaching career in the state.
"I think it's in the cards, but my goal would be in Eugene with the Ducks,' he says. "That's where I'd like to go. I'd go through whatever I had to do to get to that point, but that's what I would hope for."